I recently read an article which discussed how busyness and a lack a leisure time are utilized, especially now in the United States, to convey a sense of importance. The study showed how people, when described in terms of immense busyness, were perceived to have greater importance than those described to have time and opportunity for leisure. The authors draw especial significance to this insight because it moves strongly from the historical, seemingly universal perspective that people with time for leisure were those who had the greatest significance. In Plato’s Republic, Socrates delineates how the philosopher king must be entirely freed from work and busyness as those would detract from his important pontification. Even at the beginning of the 20th century, Thorstein Veblen wrote in The Theory of the Leisure Class “Conspicuous abstention from labor…becomes the conventional mark of superior pecuniary achievement.” And yet, in the culture in which we live, busyness and no rest have become the sign of importance; how much more important, fantastical, and foreign does the rest in Hebrews appear to us in this age?
In light of this study, I think it remarkably accurate for me when Pastor Justin suggested that a primary epidemic that he sees in his congregants is working ourselves to the margin, without rest or “fallowness”. For the nation of Israel, the Sabbath Day was a visible demarcation for the nations of the world that they were set apart. For Christians, in our modern world, how much more is rest, true and proper rest - Sabbath rest - an explicit intimation of our faith in Christ? I think that Pastor Justin’s diagnosis that we do not allow time for rest is an exceedingly pungent accusation and exhortation; however, if I may be permitted, I may seek to add an addendum to his diagnosis: I think there may also be a fair accusation that in those instances that we do “rest,” we do not rest properly.
I had a professor who used the phrase “gluttons of yum-yum” to most accurately describe many (especially myself!) in my generation. By my understanding, yum-yum is a sweet, delectable, nutrition-less food; my professor used it to refer to those aspects of culture that we can so easily consume with no thought or mind but find simply delectable: the mindless TV we can binge, the empty books that we can devour, etc. And although there may be a time and place to enjoy yum-yum, we must do so sparingly. From here, my professor pivoted to an exhortation towards appropriate, thoughtful engagement with culture, but I think that we can see “gluttons of yum-yum” being an appropriate diagnosis for our attempts at rest as well. How often do I “rest” by binging on show after show? Or fritter my time away on silly articles on Twitter or Reddit? Or squander my Saturday on a unimportant book? By no means am I suggesting that any of these are wholly wrong, but rather, I seek to suggest that we squander our rest when we become gluttons of these, when we become gluttons of yum-yum.
There are a few characteristics of wholesome, God-given rest that I see in Pastor Justin’s sermon and in the Hebrews passage. First, we see that rest is given to us by God (4:5,9). As was quite clearly enunciated, for all our apps, for all our life-hacks, for all our attempts, we have no rest apart from that which Christ will give. In our gluttony of yum-yum, we become lethargic in our own “self-sufficiency” rather than striving to enter the rest that God has given. Second, we must strive for the rest that Christ will give; it must be a deliberate, intentional effort to enter into it (4:11). Again, I don’t think that this necessarily precludes enjoying yum-yum as part of partaking in God-given rest, but I do think that it suggests that the time spent enjoying yum-yum must be deliberate and disciplined. I find myself on Sunday evenings often considering how much time I have squandered through the weekend, stuffing myself with yum-yum, and yet feeling exhausted and ill-prepared for the week ahead. Perhaps, had I carefully and prayerfully considered the time ahead of me from Friday, my time enjoying yum-yum may have been restorative, and perhaps I would have found myself enjoying much more than just yum-yum. Perhaps, I would have been incited to spend more time reading the Word. Perhaps, I would have watched a challenging TV show and stopped to consider how I see God’s glory demonstrated (or not demonstrated) and my sinfulness becomes more apparent (or more obscured). Perhaps, I would have entered into God-given rest that would have actually been restorative rather than simply time-consuming. Third, I see that the rest is something that through belief we have already entered (4:3). And fourth, the rest, specifically, the Sabbath-rest, is something yet to come (4:9). If we consider rest through this “now and not yet” lens, I think it again becomes apparent that there is no room for gluttonous lethargy of rest; the rest that we strive to enter is a dimly-lit picture of the rest that we will fully enter into one day with Christ.
I come to end of this reflection, seeing the disparity between what rest ought to be and how I continually seek to “rest,” and recognize that perhaps this was more a confession than a devotional. Perhaps, I am unique in being a glutton of yum-yum. Perhaps, the time that I squander, but justify as so-called “rest,” is essentially unique to my character. However, I, like you, rest in the commonality that we have in the grace of Christ. For it is the grace of Christ that gives us rest when we do not know how to rest, and it is the grace of Christ that gives us rest when we do not take the time to rest. It is also the grace of Christ that gives us no rest when we do not choose to rest so that we fail in our own-self sufficiency and must fall on the strength of Christ. So, despite my efforts to rest, and through my efforts to rest, Christ is good to give me the rest that I need. God, please give me the diligence and wisdom to seek Your rest today and relish that it is but an imperfect picture of the final Sabbath rest that I will ultimately find in You.
~ Josh Spare